At one point of the Steelers 2020 NFL season the Steelers were undefeated and sitting pretty with a 11-0 record. The team was far from perfect, and honestly hadn't even come close to playing a complete game where they approached firing on all cylinders. I emphasized that observation often in my articles, particularly when ranking their progress in our quarterly grade articles here at BTSC. I surmised that the Steelers realized their areas in need of improvement, and that they were striving to gain momentum and balance prior to the playoffs.
Prior to the Steelers mind numbing rescheduling fiasco with the Thanksgiving edition of the Ravens rivalry game, I heard from a lifelong friend who happens to love the Cleveland Browns. He was pretty ecstatic about the Browns recent improvements; especially with the stability provided from having finally obtained a competent head coach, and the fact they had a real shot at finally making the playoffs. He didn't want to get his hopes up too much, but it was impossible for him to try and hide his excitement.
He mentioned that the Steelers had most likely sealed the division by that point, but he offered me a word of caution as well. He surmised that the Steelers should be wary of their recent reliance on the short passing attack to camouflage their lack of a rushing attack. I assured him there was extenuating circumstances that had led to the Steelers inability to run the ball effectively.
I explained that I believed the Steelers had become enamored with the success of the quick passing attack and the mismatches and tempo it created, but that they would utilize the last quarter of the season to focus on improving their rushing attack and striving for offensive balance. There was one huge monkey wrench in that plan I was missing. The Steelers offensive line performance had declined so severely by that point that the Steelers could no longer effectively run the ball even when they focused their intentions on doing just that. But was it a lack of talent, commitment, or execution? Or maybe even something else. While I believe it was a combination of all of the above, there was another contributing factor.
The Steelers lost any semblance of a spark on offense at least in part due to ineffective and redundant game plans. Eventually every collective group needs to hear a different voice in the room. If not, the message attempting to be conveyed can become stagnant and ineffective. Simply put, the message can fall on deaf ears so to speak. That possibility stands true whether you are talking about the business, educational, or athletic sectors; the NFL landscape covers all three. While Randy Fichtner and Shaun Sarrett are far from the only culprits, the Steelers brass decided that a complete rebuild of the offensive line and running game required new voices delivering a shift in scheme and philosophy. OC Matt Canada and OL Coach Adrian Klemm have been tasked with said delivery.
A influx of new faces in new places should bring a tinge of excitement and intrigue to training camp at Latrobe in late July, especially when the level of impact talent being brought in is taken into consideration. Adding a bell cow running back, well rounded tight end, and a athletic center with starting potential to a already loaded wide receiver group being lead by a future HOF QB is definitely something to get excited about. Hopefully that excitement will help the Steelers offense rediscover the spark that had faded significantly by the end of last season.
Losing is never fun, but the lack of joy started to show on the countenance of many players prior to the late season struggles. There were outward displays of frustration made evident on the field and sidelines as the offense struggled to consistently move the football and put points on the scoreboard. There was weekly coach speak about concerted efforts to establish a functional running game, but that only resulted in the very predictable opening script of a couple of unimaginative running plays and throwing the ball on third and long. The Steelers were atrocious on opening drives, with the majority ending in three and outs.
The Steelers plethora of talented skill position players grew discouraged by the short passing game when they excel at attacking deeper down the field. Even worse, each week's game plan lacked creativity. I can't recall a single offensive snap last season that would qualify as a trick play. No flea-flicker, halfback option pass, or wide receiver pass off a reverse. Nothing! They did try a pass to maybe their most agility challenged offensive tackle down around the end zone against Washington, with disastrous results. Maybe they had good reason to not try another.
Trick plays do not win ball games, nor do they constitute a reliable offense. They are most effective when coupled with a well balanced punishing offense actually. However, they do bring a level of excitement for the players entrusted to execute them properly. Players enjoy the practice reps a little more during the week and look forward to possibly running the new play during the game. These simple additions to any game plan can help prevent a stagnate and uninspired offensive approach, while helping to keep the participants both focused and engaged.
Matt Canada has been entrusted to keep the game plans effective and efficient, while Adrian Klemm works to build a offensive line capable of leading the way. While neither gentleman's voices can be considered new, their messages should be.